Stunned

For the past two months we have been on furlough traveling the States with our newborn, a 2 1/2 year old toddler, all of the coffee, and an industrial size container of animal crackers.

Lots of people take the time to ask if we’ve adjusted…if we’ve gotten used to the land of flushable toilet paper yet.

Culture shock.

It’s a misleading term because a shock usually comes and goes pretty quickly.

As a family living cross-culturally for two years now, I would choose to change the term to “culture stunned.”

To fully explore the meaning, I looked up some synonyms on Thesaurus.com for the word stunned:

Amazed, confused, dazed, dumbfounded, overwhelmed, paralyzed, rocked, shook up, surprised.

I can relate to ALL of these terms as we re-experience the USA from a new perspective.

I feel AMAZED at the beauty of landscapes, buildings, skin/hair color, and the simplest things as I look at my home country from a totally different viewpoint.

I feel CONFUSED when long-term relationships seem to take more effort than they did before.

I feel DAZED on days where it seems like I can’t snap out of my “brain-fog.” It is like being a different person living in the body of my former self, walking through routines and activities that no longer seem familiar and comfortable.

I feel DUMBFOUNDED when I have to consciously think of responses to questions like “Paper or plastic?”, “How are you today?”, or, my favorite, “What is your phone number?”

I feel OVERWHELMED when I run into the store to grab diapers, there are 12 brands to choose from, and I don’t have a clue how to determine which to purchase.

I feel PARALYZED for no explainable reason.

My whole world is ROCKED when for the first time ever, I see the same desperate need for the Gospel in people’s lives here as in Costa Rica.

I feel SHOOK UP when I am driving down the highway and see a police officer, and realize I have no idea what the speed limit has been for the past fifteen minutes, and can’t even remember what would be a normal velocity for a highway.

I feel constantly SURPRISED at differences. Differences in prices, parenting styles, values, and diets.

Sometimes I question if living cross-culturally is worth the “stun,” but I am beginning to see the growth my family has experienced because of it. When it seems like there is not a single place on earth where we fit in, we rely fully on our identity as heirs of the kingdom.

Having my world rocked by culture shock is exactly what I need sometimes to see beyond skin color and traditions and see God’s people for who they truly are.

The Message Bible translation states it best:

Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you. -Romans 12:2

So as I continue through this journey of being stunned, paralyzed, and overwhelmed, I look to the cross and point others to it.

And drink a whole lot of coffee because #momtired #livingoutofasuitcase #toddlertantrums.

Gran Yo Soy

I remember being confused when first hearing the lyrics to the song “El Gran Yo Soy” (“The Great I Am”) by Hillsong.

The meaning got lost in translation. I didn’t understand why I was singing about how great I am. But I sang along anyway, thinking that maybe it meant that God made me great or something.

Then one day it hit me… OH! God referred to Himself as “I Am” in the Old Testament. The song actually had nothing to do with me, but it was all about God’s greatness.

In ministry, it’s easy to make the same mistake. I know that Ethan and I tend to look at all we accomplish and say, “Wow! Gran yo soy (I am great)!” Even others state the same thing as they observe fruits of our labor.

“I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who makes things grow.” -1 Corinthians 3:6-7

Recently we had to say goodbye to the teens at the clubhouse, and it was one of the hardest things I have ever done.

We had spent the last year and a half investing in them, staying up late to plan lessons for them, drinking coffee with their families, and walking with them through the highs and lows of adolescence. For Ethan and I, they became like our own kids.

When circumstances ripped the clubhouse away from us abruptly, our response consisted of a lot of emotions:

Anger. Frustration. Grief. Sadness. Bitterness.

It didn’t seem to make sense. Why would God allow such an amazing ministry to be put to an end so quickly, when there was so much fruit!? What is going to happen to our students after we leave? Who is going to disciple them?

And in the midst of all of our emotions and grieving, our pride was exposed. Our pride had spun out of control, and we were taking the Lord’s work into our own hands. We honestly believed that it was up to us to bring the Gospel to these adolescents.

But it wasn’t us, it was the Holy Spirit working through us to draw His people nearer to Him.

We do not understand why the Lord has allowed this to happen, but we know one thing for certain: whether our role was only to plant or water, He is the One who will bring the growth.

We say it all the time: This is not our mission, it is the Lord’s. I am grateful for the opportunity I had to share the Gospel with the youth of the clubhouse, but let’s be real. It was not our efforts that brought those kids to Jesus–it was the work of the Holy Spirit. It was God the Father pursuing His children passionately. It was the Gran Yo Soy who gave the growth.

So instead of worrying about these youth, I will pray for them by name every day because at the end of the day, they are better off not in my hands, but in the hands of the Great I Am.

Spa Day

Baby number two’s due date is this week, and the panic has set in.

It’s not so much that I am anxious about having ALL of the baby things or nervous for labor, though those thoughts have definitely been running through my mind.

It is the realization that our family of three is about to become a family of four. And when I look at my sweet 2-year-old, I am realizing that she is no longer going to be my baby.

Of course I can’t wait to meet my son and snuggle him, but that doesn’t make it any easier to say goodbye to a season of just me and my little girl.

So in an attempt to squeeze in one last *Instagram perfect* memory with my spunky toddler, I planned an elaborate spa morning for us. Girls only.

Face masks. Essential oil lotion. Nail polish. Manicure kit. Hair ties. UberEats Starbucks order.

Yes, this was going to be an epic day.

**Did I mention that I suffer from a severe case of FOMO (Fear of Missing Out)?**

The morning started off great. We were chanting “Spa day! Spa day!” during breakfast. We rushed Daddy out the door because *NO boys allowed* and got right to it.

Within minutes, the crying began. Out of excitement she had rubbed the facemask into her sweet eyes. It became a pretty quick downward spiral from there.

The nail clippers became a toy for her baby doll, she ran away three times, she screamed the whole time I clipped her nails, and she asked for the “paint” a million times because she wanted to dump out the polish.

The final straw was when we ACTUALLY got around to painting her nails, and she itched her legs until they were smeared terribly.

That is when my hormones and FOMO mixed together to create the perfect tornado of irrational emotions, and I snapped, “ENOUGH!”

I proceeded to inform my toddler that spa day was over and it was too bad that we couldn’t have enjoyed it more.

Ouch.

She looked up at me with those precious brown-green eyes, and all I could see was sadness.

She was frustrated that she didn’t meet my standards.

She was hurt that I had snapped at her.

She was heartbroken because she had disappointed her mommy.

Those eyes convicted me.

What am I doing? She is TWO years old! All she wants is my time, love, and attention, not an elaborate event.

After apologizing, I explained to her that my reason for all the hoopla was to show her that I loved her SO very much.

Relieved, she clung to me and quietly replied, “Love you berry much.”

We agreed to change “Spa Day” to “Girls Day” and enjoyed our UberEats Starbucks delivery while reading books, playing Play-Doh, and rocking baby dolls to sleep.

Because that is what matters to a child: undivided attention, doing something they love.

So many lessons were learned that day:

When we put too much pressure on making memories, we crush them. It is the collection of organic, unplanned moments that form lasting memories.

It stinks to make mistakes as parents, but the power of forgiveness is a beautiful thing.

I tend to go off the deep end when pregnant…

You can never go wrong with Starbucks.

Will my little girl remember our spa day mishap a year from now? No (thank goodness). Will she doubt my love for her? Absolutely not.

The reality is that every day has its ups and downs, and we are going to fail. Oh mama, do we fail. But when we live this messy life allowing room for grace (even for ourselves), the result for our children is better than memories of Disneyland or the perfect shopping trip. It is the comfort of knowing that they are unconditionally loved.

And, that, NO spa day can ruin.

“Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.”  -Ephesians 6:4

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Apart from Me

“I am the vine, you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit, apart from me, you can do nothing.” -John 15:5

Sometimes there is nothing more sobering than Scripture. When I read this the other day, my reaction was something like:

Nothing? Sounds more like a threat than a promise. 

Let’s face it, I like to take credit for the work that the Lord is doing.  Comedian John Crist would definitely advise me, “Check your heart.”

The last few weeks, Ethan and I have had the opportunity to slow down and spend time reflecting.

Our sending organization Mission of Christ Network advised us (with more than a gentle shove) to take a break from ministry to await the birth of our baby boy. One of the goals of this hiatus is to re-focus ourselves on family, stop going 100 miles per hour, and adjust to being a family of four.

Though now we see the value in this time, our initial reaction was:

But the mission! Won’t it completely fall apart without our expertise, experience, and passion? *insert gagging emoji here*

Wow. Pride at it’s finest.

Throwback to the second part of John 15:5: “Apart from me, you can do NOTHING.” 

And here we are… hanging out in San José, reflecting. Waiting.

The worst part (which is actually the best part at the same time)? We cannot bury ourselves in the work and daily tasks involved in running the clubhouse. We have to face who we really are.

The result? We are shifting our focus to abiding in the LORD, to making our family our first ministry, and to shedding our pride. This is HIS mission, and at the end of the day, God doesn’t rely on us to accomplish His tasks. He is not panicking because we are in San José instead of working in Parrita. He’s got this.

Instead every day He is leading us closer to Him, and reminding us of the importance of abiding in Him.

Because apart from Him, we can do NOTHING. 

And, I have decided that IS a threat–a threat to our pride. But also a promise that when we abide in Him, He will follow through and there will be fruit.

Well hello, world.

Yes, I have reached that point in my pregnancy where I can start doing the things again.

And the hardest part of that is looking back and realizing that I have not been keeping up on, well anything.

The last blog post I wrote was in AUGUST, I just responded to five emails from OCTOBER,

Do you ever feel like all you can do is count the failures in your life?

There are days, sometimes even weeks, where I feel like I just can’t quite get it together. I am supposed to be a missionary, but am I doing enough?

We are finishing up a session at our clubhouse with the theme verse John 1:5, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

Teaching for nine weeks using 9 million different activities and lessons to try to drive this point home has made me realized that I, too, need to learn from this verse.

That’s one of the things I love about what we do, by the way. We learn alongside the kids because Scripture constantly transforms us.

Anyway, focusing on the darkness (my shortcomings, all that is wrong in this world…), is not really worthwhile. The more I focus on those things, the more I give them power, forgetting that the darkness has already been overcome by the Light, my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!

2 Corinthians 12:9-10 “But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.  That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

Has my to-do list been accomplished in the past few months? Not really. Have I stuck perfectly to my discipline plan for my 2-year-old? Hardly. Did the two giant jars of Nutella my inlays gifted me last more than two weeks? No comment.

The point? God accomplishes his purposes in spite of us. And to be honest, I think I give myself WAY too much credit for the work He is doing here in HIS mission field.

Of course, let’s continue to soak and rest in His Word so that good works continue to flow out of us… but CHILL for a minute and stop trying to do it all. Doesn’t Ecclesiastes say something about there being a time to do your laundry and a time to lay in your hammock??? 😉

My prayer for all of us today is that in our weakness, we can lean even more on our never failing God, opening our eyes to the amazing things he is accomplishing around us.

Be Still

Ah yes, we are finally settling back into our sweet Costa Rican home after our first furlough in the States.

During those short six weeks, our family stayed in different 12 houses, drove 5000 miles to visit 6 states, and presented at 12 congregations.*

*With a toddler.

God has been so good and I am grateful for the relationships that we have. But let’s be real…

This momma is TIRED.

Almost every sermon, conversation, and even training session seemed to address the importance of resting in the Lord.  Being in His presence. SLOWING DOWN.

And it convicted me just as much as it annoyed me.

Easing back into the mission field, our family has one major goal for the year:

SLOW DOWN.

When our sending organization Mission of Christ Network (shoutout!) interviewed us to help us reflect our our past year and prepare for the next, they diagnosed us with overdoing-it.

All the time.

Even on our furlough.

I’ve always prided myself in my ability to be productive and accomplish lots of tasks, but they were right–it had gone too far.

The prescription?

Be still and know that I am God– Psalm 46:10

But how can I be still when I have 60-80 kids and their families to minister to…and my house needs to be cleaned…and don’t forget the two-and-a-half-foot tall human relying on me for all her needs?

And then it hit me: God is going to accomplish his purpose whether or not I kill myself trying to do it.

Even Jesus had to sneak away to have quiet time to rest in the LORD– and He’s JESUS!!!

So we made a plan to simplify our schedule and FORCE more rest time. Naps are allowed.   An hour or more of time in the Word is encouraged. Work can and will wait.

As difficult as it was, we only worked for two short days when we got back, and then retreated to the mountains for four days to escape WiFi and the work that had piled up while we were gone.

I will be honest, it was hard for my pride to leave for a vacation. After all, I had WORK to accomplish that NO ONE else could do (see the pride?).

The result?

Peace.

After soaking up the presence of the Lord and His word,  hiking together as a family,  and pushing Aubree in a swing for an hour while she watched the chickens, we were renewed, refocused, and ready to hit the ground running.

IMG_3355.JPGYes, we returned to much work to be done, but continue to prioritize our sabbath and time with the Lord. It is not easy because we love what we do and there is a lot of work, but it is so good because God is transforming

And the best part is that our work is already becoming more joyful and focused! Plus- whenever the spiritual warfare gets real, we have already been sharpening our sword and polishing our armor, so it is not nearly as blindsiding.

I would love to write more, but I think I am going to catch a snooze in my hammock before working this afternoon… 🙂

 

Half Empty

**Disclaimer–I found this post on my computer–it was written in March, I think! Ha!**

Half Empty or Half Full

—does it really matter if your cup is not overflowing?

A month ago I had the opportunity to pack a bag ONLY for me. No diapers. No extra snacks. No mile-long checklist.

Just some clothes, a good book, and my yoga mat.

RETREAT!

Yes, for four days and three nights, this momma experienced air conditioning, reclined poolside, practiced yoga on the beach, and rejuvenated.

Before I left, I said to Ethan, “I can’t wait to come back refreshed!!”

Isn’t that how we do life? We run run run because we are busy busy busy and that is just what we have to do. Then a few months down the road, we hit a wall and do things like sign up for retreats or go on vacation, all to fill back up again.

There has to be a better way, right??

Journaling to the sounds of waves crashing, it occurred to me: I have not been letting the Lord fill up my cup.

All day long I GIVE: to my husband, daughter, friends, and those we minister to daily. 

Cooking, cleaning, laundry, lesson planning, counseling, praying with others… lots of days I don’t even run a brush through my hair. 

The reality is that there is always more work to be done, especially in ministry. And because there are so many people that need to know the Good LORD, it is really easy to allow myself to push through weeks and months with very little rest (spiritual, mental, emotional, and physical).

The result? A lot of tasks completed and the sound of a clanging cymbal (1 Corinthians 13:1).

Recently I started reading through the Old Testament (does anyone else struggle through Leviticus and Numbers?!?). 

I love reading the story in Exodus about the Israelites and manna. God provided JUST enough for them to have everyday. They couldn’t double their work load one day, then hang out the next. He even forced them to take a day off by not providing it one day a week.

God wants us to have a rhythm of work and rest. 

Some days I see my cup as half empty, and other days I see it as half full. But what does it matter if it’s not OVERFLOWING? 

No amount of social time, alone time, coffee, yoga, or ANYTHING can fill our cup. Only the Lord and time with Him in His word will satisfy. 

Isaiah 40:31

but those who hope in the Lord

will renew their strength.

They will soar on wings like eagles;

they will run and not grow weary,

they will walk and not be faint.

(Side note: if you have any missionary friends, I highly recommend Azmera retreats—they do 3 different countries a year. Check it out!).